Ryan Coogler came storming out of the gate with “Creed,” a spiritual sequel to “Rocky” that was so good, it stood side by side comfortably with the original “Rocky.” As all things in Hollywood, despite Stallone’s attempted justification for re-visiting old story lines, “Creed” made money, so we have “Creed II.” I mean, there is room here for the writers to explore the whole dynamic between Adonis confronting the man who murdered his father, but much of that is sidestepped in favor of usual “Rocky” movie tropes, boiling down to a sequel that’s pretty damn—erm, okay. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s not “Creed.”
It’s not even “Rocky II.”
Still affected from the fateful 1985 match with Rocky Balboa, an aged Ivan Drago has trained his son Viktor to become a powerful boxer in Russia. Anxious to reclaim his legacy, respect, and so much more, he travels to America to challenge Adonis Creed for the championship belt. Despite Rocky’s insistence that Adonis dismiss the challenge altogether, Adonis takes on the very dangerous Viktor in the ring. With brand new developments in his life including an impending marriage, and his first child, Adonis has to figure out if he wants to confront this demon from the past, as well as why the challenge has slowly become an obsession for him.
With “Rocky Balboa” and “Creed,” we had a two act story that gave us the needed epilogue to Rocky Balboa’s tale, and the encapsulation of Apollo’s son’s journey to fulfill his dad’s legacy. We pretty much know all that we needed to know in “Creed” thus “Creed II” can never get around the fact that it’s a sequel because the first movie was such a huge hit. That’s about that. “Creed II” has so much going for it, but in the end it doesn’t really offer up anything new, save for the compelling themes about fathers and fatherhood. A lot of the best characters from the original are all reserved to side characters, while Adonis almost has nowhere to go. When we left him in “Creed” he made peace with his dad’s spirit, and found his place as a boxer. When we see him here, he’s a championship boxer and a wealthy one at that.
When Ivan Drago comes knocking at his door demanding a bout with his son Viktor, there isn’t much justification for Adonis to step in the ring. Much of Adonis’ own motives for wanting to fight Viktor are based mostly around his stupid pride, which makes him shockingly less empathetic than Viktor, throughout the movie. Rocky asks him why he wants to fight, and Adonis never actually answers the question. Even when he has his ego shattered mid-way, there’s never a lot of clarification why this fight is so important. Meanwhile, everyone else are relatively ignored, including Stallone whose role as Rocky is decreased. “Creed II” is basically Rocky’s exit from the whole series, most likely. At the very least he’ll probably appear in “Creed III” for two short scenes and that’s about it. That said, the big draw here is the return of Ivan Drago, and for what limited scenes Dolph Lundgren is given, he does well.
Florian Munteanu also works well off of Lundgren as the conflicted Viktor. I loved the emphasis on the Drago relationship, and what personal motivation Ivan had for turning his own son in to a boxer. Oddly enough his own reason for challenging Adonis feels so much more justified and logical. At almost two and a half hours, “Creed II” could stand some trimming down, but it garners some fine direction, and fantastic boxing scenes. The final bout is especially teeth grinding, while the bout mid-way is absolutely soul crushing. Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson are about as great as ever, presenting a excellent chemistry and a romantic tale that’s almost as engrossing as Rocky and Adrian’s. While “Creed II” isn’t great, it’s a solid entry in the “Rocky” anthology with pros thankfully outweighing the cons.
I could do without the planned “Creed III” though. Seriously, did any of Rocky’s old opponents ever have daughters? Or just decide against having children?
The new release from Warner Bros. comes with a DVD copy and a Digital copy. The Blu-Ray garners nine minutes of deleted and extended scenes including “Rocky’s Eulogy for Spider Rico”, “Max’s Cheesesteak Restaurant (Extended)”, “Rocky Trains Kids”, and “Locker Room”. “Fathers and Sons” is a seven minute look at the themes of “Creed II” about fathers and sons, and the idea of Adonis following his dad’s footsteps. There are interviews with cast and crew including director Stephen Caple Jr, actors Dolph Lundrgen, Sylvester Stallone, Michael B. Jordan, Florian Munteanu, Andre Ward, producer Irwin Winkler, Sugar Ray Leonard and more.
“Casting Viktor Drago” is a five minute look at the original casting of Florian Munteanu, who discusses his audition, meeting Stallone, his training, etc. “The Women of Creed II” is a five minute discussion with Phylicia Rashad and Tessa Thompson, both of whom discuss their characters, their emotional weight, and their importance to the story. Finally, “Rocky’s Legacy” is a fifteen minute exploration of Rocky with host Dolph Lundgren, featuring comments from cast and crew members, and an overview of most of the Rocky Films, the Creed films, production stories, and more. It’s a nice refresher course for fans.